HomeNewsBriefColombia Micro-Extortion Targets Teachers, Bicycle Taxi Drivers
BRIEF

Colombia Micro-Extortion Targets Teachers, Bicycle Taxi Drivers

COLOMBIA / 23 SEP 2013 BY NATALIE SOUTHWICK EN

Micro-extortion of everyone from teachers to bicycle taxi drivers is funding small criminal groups across Colombia, according to analysts and crime reports, with the small-scale nature of the crime illustrating the country's changing criminal landscape.

A report by El Tiempo collates figures from different Colombian departments to paint a picture of the "Sicilian" style extortion -- so-named for the use of this method in Italian neighborhoods in the United States -- carried out by street gangs.

In three towns in Cordoba, 189 teachers reported paying about $7.90 a month to work; in Tumaco, a town in Nariño, around 1,300 business have been forced to close since 2011; in Barranquilla, shopkeepers must pay about $26.50 monthly; and in Bogota, bicycle taxis pay $1.50 a day.

Nearly 150 different gangs earn up to $105,000 a month from micro-extortion in the major cities of Medellin and Barranquilla, according to the Prosecutor General's Office. Various small groups with no national presence fight for control at a very local level, said one prosecutor.

InSight Crime Analysis

While Colombia has a long history of extortion, the crime has dramatically changed in nature over the years. As explained by El Tiempo, a crime that used to see large sums of money extorted from rich businessmen and multinational companies is now woven into the fabric of daily life in poor communities, with street gangs forcing constant small amounts from anyone they can.

An investigation earlier this year by El Tiempo attributed 83 percent of extortion cases to “common criminals,” illustrating how widespread micro-extortion has become the principal income source for the lowest rung of Colombian organized crime -- a trade estimated to be worth over $1 billion a year. The line between low-level gangs and major criminal organizations such as the Urabeños is not clear cut, however, as the big groups often contract out work to local outfits and small-time criminals often operate using the name of major organizations to frighten their victims.

The government recently proposed almost doubling the maximum sentence for extortion from 18 to 32 years. But given that the small amounts being demanded mean tolerating the "tax" is preferable to the fear of retaliation for reporting it -- and that extortion rackets are run from jails across Latin America -- such a measure seems unlikely to make a real dent in the crime.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 21 MAY 2013

The FARC engage in criminal activities to fund their struggle to overthrow the state. There is very little difference between…

COLOMBIA / 4 APR 2013

A letter obtained by Colombian media has shed light on the extent to which the country's oldest guerrilla group, the…

COLOMBIA / 26 AUG 2015

According to one source, the violent incident that prompted Venezuela to close its border with Colombia did not involve contraband…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Guatemala Social Insecurity Investigation Makes Front Page News

10 DEC 2021

InSight Crime’s latest investigation into a case of corruption within Guatemala's social security agency linked to the deaths of patients with kidney disease made waves in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…